NGA's Self-Service POD Improves

by | Jun 11, 2012

By Bob Hicks, technical executive, Office of the Americas, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
(, Springfield, Va.


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Point of Distribution (POD) gives customers on-demand access to NGA's homeland security commercial airborne imagery online”a fitting example of self-service NGA data. NGA analysts and domestic partners, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders, use the imagery service during domestic disaster response.


POD Development

The NGA POD at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Data Center is the result of a longstanding partnership between NGA's Office of the Americas and USGS.

POD exists because someone wanted to know what would happen if NGA leveraged the USGS's National Map, a program that already has both imagery storage and Web services available, said Bill Nellist, project lead for the North America and Homeland Security Division (PMH) 133 cities imagery project.

After 9/11, PMH and USGS developed the Homeland Security Infrastructure Program (HSIP). A clearinghouse of mission-critical geospatial and remote sensing information, HSIP data collection includes the procurement of unclassified imagery over the 133 highest-priority American metropolitan areas. NGA shares this unclassified imagery, which supports a common operational data framework, with its domestic mission partners at the federal, state, local and tribal levels. Leveraging existing co-production agreements, such as HSIP, PMH partnered with USGS to acquire commercial airborne imagery, according to Steve Alness, chief of NGA's Domestic Preparedness Branch.

Working with USGS, PMH developed a strategy for NGA to provide funding for USGS to manage the contracting and processing of airborne imagery over areas of interest.

USGS works with its state liaisons to leverage funding to seed other partnerships, said Douglas Binnie, USGS Information Solutions Team chief. The partnerships allow NGA to get four square miles of coverage for every square mile it purchases.

However, this arrangement required PMH analysts to manage the entire workflow, including organization, cataloging, storage, access, duplication and dissemination of imagery to mission partners. According to Nellist, it became apparent that this business model was unsustainable.


A Web-Based Solution

In 2009, the situation reached critical mass; there were more than 21,000 DVDs and more than 300 portable hard drives in the catalog”more than NGA had space to store and analysts to manage. NGA needed a solution.

Drew Herrick, former technical executive for the Office of the Americas, worked with the eGEOINT Management Office to establish an alternate business model that relied on self-service through interoperable Open Geospatial Consortium-compliant Web services. PMH and USGS purchased Web servers and placed them at
EROS to serve online, on-demand imagery.

Then-director of PMH Todd Cummings agreed to fund the servers”the NGA POD. Also, eGEOINT consulted on creating the POD Web Mapping Service (WMS), which provides the data. This architecture allows data to be stored in one location and, through NGA servers, ensures that public and NGA activities don't affect each other, according to Herrick.

NGA launched POD in April 2010 to enthusiastic use by analysts. Said Nellist, It was surprising how quickly almost everyone accepted the new processes for accessing our imagery.

The project's success has demonstrated the power of Web services and is changing how agencies do business.

Since the implementation of the POD, the FEMA Flood Map Modernization activity has also implemented a similar POD, said Binnie. Bureau of Census is considering it as well. This collaboration between NGA and USGS certainly does a good job in validating the need for these data, and the fact the data are used by multiple agencies from a single source speaks to the work being done to make access mechanisms efficient and easy to use.

By adhering to service-oriented architecture principles, the NGA POD, a joint, collaborative venture, has aligned with NGA's vision of putting GEOINT in the hands of our users and has inspired partners to investigate similar avenues. The NGA POD represents just one step in a much larger strategy that will allow NGA to more effectively provide HSIP products through a self-service environment.


Editor's Note: Thanks to the NGA Pathfinder staff for their assistance with this column.


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